Delegates to the United Nations are generally referred to as 'diplomats,' but in the wake of the vote condemning the U.S. decision on Jerusalem, one has to wonder. The permanently scowling U.S. representative Nikki Haley threatened reprisals – "We will be taking names" – against those who did not support the U.S. position.
The vote was 128-9. Aside from the United States and Israel, the seven who voted with them consisted of five minuscule Pacific island nations, whose bread and butter comes from the United States, plus Honduras and Guatemala.
In Honduras, a stolen election had the opposition up in arms because it appeared from the results that the incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez had lost to Salvador Nasralla. Following the UN vote, the United States threw its support behind Hernandez, and Nasralla threw in the towel.
Then there is Guatemala, where former generals from dictatorship days joining with President Jimmy Morales have made a smooth transition to civilian government and who the United States continues to support, rounding out the nine votes. A co-founder of Morales' Convergence Party, Ovalle Maldonado, is being investigated for the crimes of disappearances and money laundering. Now a fugitive, he is a former colonel and a graduate of the School of the Americas, and just one of many in a party 'dominated by military officers.'
All the same, U.S. support constitutes a pinprick of the world's population. Consider on one side Nikki Haley and the United States with its immense economic and military power; on the other, Palestine relying only on the world's conscience. Conscience won. In an earlier Security Council vote, the United States tallied 13-1 against, obliging it to use its veto.
Has the United States lost its clout? And what of Nikki Haley's threats? They seem to have been forgotten by the time the next issue of North Korean sanctions was taken up. Approved and putting a stranglehold on oil, these still depend on China.
In fact, Nikki Haley's foreign-aid threat means little, because foreign aid is mostly about the furtherance of U.S. policy. The principal recipients – Israel and Egypt – are unlikely to experience cuts; the first because of its influential lobby, the other because of the peace treaty obligations. Afghanistan, the other major recipient, is busy fighting the Taliban; Jordan is fighting extremism and is, like Egypt, kept under control in the extent of its opposition to Israel. Then there is the Somalia conflict, and the aid recipients as a result include Ethiopia, used as a proxy, plus the peripheral states. Nigeria is fighting ISIS offshoots, and so it goes on.
Nikki Haley's undiplomatic threat was not only empty, but made the United States appear mean, nasty and child-like.
Worse have been Donald Trump's threats against North Korea. "It can't happen", he tweeted about ICBM missiles early in the year; North Korea now has them. Then there are his repeated military threats, also ignored by Kim Jong Un. Red lines have been drawn, crossed, and then? No response because there is no military solution.
Often, as in chess, a certain tension is more effective in hampering opponents than the actual play-out of a scenario. The United States chose the latter, and from Libya to Afghanistan (not to mention Vietnam) people have watched its lack of success; they have weathered the storm. It might still displace elected governments, as in Ukraine, but the end result is less than satisfactory.
One might well ask: is the United States now in decline? The election of Donald Trump offers a clue.
Dr Arshad M Khan is a former professor whose comments have appeared in an array of print and online media.